That Mama Rachel Loh of Utama Spice is a former lawyer now balancing running a small business with raising her infant daughter
Our colleague Beate has been singing the praises of Utama Spice’s disinfecting Yoga Mat Spray for years — so when she suggested we interview Rachel Loh, the mama who runs the company, we were keen to find out more. Turns out that before she became a Yoga instructor and ran a company of all-natural aromatherapy products, Rachel worked in the high-stress legal field as a real estate lawyer. Read on for her fascinating perspective on making a huge career shift, as well as what she’s learned recently about work-life balance after giving birth to her daughter just 8 months ago….
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I’m 34 years old. I started off as a real estate solicitor, and am currently an entrepreneur and freelance yoga instructor! I also run Utama Spice, a Balinese skincare brand, which I first discovered because I suffered from bad eczema due to work-induced stress. It was started by my friend’s mother who started blending her own remedies in the 1980s to protect her young children from unnecessary exposure to synthetic chemicals.
I’ve tried a couple of different things in my career to date, but being a full time mum has been the most challenging experience. I’ve always wanted many kids because I’m an only child and I always wished I had other siblings – I still hope to have lots of children but we’ll have to see what life throws at us! I grew up living with my grandparents so I’ve always thought that living in a 3-generational home is normal. We currently live with my husband’s parents and we’re glad that we can give the same to our growing family.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I started my own business two years back because I knew that once I had kids, I wouldn’t have the same kind of risk appetite to try something new. Indeed, when I first tried getting back into the swing of things with my business just before baby turned 6 months, I felt so overwhelmed — I had to adjust to this new life with baby, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation and my business that I had neglected for 6 months prior. It all seemed too much and I was on the verge of giving up on my business. It also felt like I had two babies at that stage (so hats off to twin mums!)
But at the same time, I desperately wanted to create a new identity for myself – one where I could carve out time and space in my life for growth outside of the home environment. Before baby, I thought it was possible to grow this business myself but now I realise that I need to ask for help and I’ve fortunately found a friend who could help me at just the right time.
Before I had a baby, I always thought it would be nice to run my own business so that I could manage my own time and spend more time with my family. Post-baby: Now that I’ve had the chance to experience how lonely sole entrepreneurship can be, I’ve realised:
- Being a stay at home mum can be really lonely so I miss the support you can get working in a larger organisation (there is alot of unsexy stuff that goes on behind the scenes in running your own business)
- It is quite difficult to work from home when you’ve got a young baby who needs a lot of attention!
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
I remember the initial anxiety that I experienced — I kept checking on the baby cam on my phone every few minutes. I also felt very overwhelmed trying to restart the business.
I just forced myself to just show up. As Woody Allen says: 80% of success is just showing up.
I also got help from friends and family! I asked a friend to help me for a couple of months with the business, and got grandparents involved a bit more with the baby when I’m away from home.
We’ve also had to get used to the idea of putting the baby on a routine to make things more predictable. Baby-led parenting doesn’t work for us when (a) you’re not there all the time to parent; and (b) you need to get things done by a certain time!
I’m also learning to adjust my expectations about my business / career. I have to learn how to accept that the business can’t always grow as fast as I’d like it to, but that’s OK and I can always come back to it in future at a later time. It is ok to hit the pause button on your career sometimes.
How do you maintain an identity separate from your child?
I found working from home very difficult to manage with having a new baby so I’ve had to make the conscious effort to set up a work space outside of the home. Co-working spaces now make it a bit easier for mums who ‘work from home’ to separate work and home.
Working out is my thing though; I try to go the gym or to the yoga studio for a class at least twice a week to clear my mind. Pre-baby, I would go every day but something’s gotta give!
Read more: Best Co-working Spaces in Singapore
How has having a child changed the way you define work?
When I was younger, I thought I would enjoy being a stay at home mum but I now realise that being a stay at home mum is the toughest job I’ve ever done so I now miss the support you get working in a larger organisation.
Recognizing that building my own business may take years and years, especially with a very small team (just me plus one part timer at the moment), I’m considering going back to an office job if I find the right role because I’ve accepted that it is ok to take breaks from my business and to come back to it again when I’ve renewed myself.
Being a parent has also forced me to think about what kind of legacy I want to leave my child and that’s a new dimension that I now take into consideration in evaluating work.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
Using simpler and therefore fewer products in my personal care regimen has helped me save much more time. My two favourites from Utama Spice are the shampoo (deep cleansing and great for those days when I haven’t had time to wash my hair the day before) because now I don’t need conditioner, and our Face Serum which is great for a straightforward wash and go routine (because it doesn’t leave residue and gunk in my face, I now don’t need to go for facials so often, either)!
I wish I had more time for…
Meeting up with my friends without kids. It is a bit difficult to meet up with friends who don’t have kids around the same age these days because the activities and routine are so different.
I always feel saner after….
Working out … and going for a drink (or two) with other mamas!
Read more: How Self-Care Makes Us Better Mamas
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
Bukit Timah. I love the fact that we’re very close to the Botanic Gardens so it’s easy to go on nice long walks.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?
Jones the Grocer is our new happy hour spot!
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
A wise friend once asked me, How can you expect your relationship to flourish if you don’t put the same amount of effort that you put into your relationship as you do into your career?
Easier said than done, but it does take hard work and commitment.
Favourite date night restaurants?
Pietrasanta; we love it so much we got married there. We love how the staff are super friendly and all know you.
Do you have any tips for working mamas in Singapore?
You’re doing enough. You are enough.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?This too shall pass.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women:
Take care of yourself first because when mama’s happy, everyone is happy.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Getting daddy involved!
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Bedtime on weekends when both the husband and I put the baby to bed together. We read a book with her and relax with her until she’s ready for bed. It really feels like we’re winding down as a family and reconnecting.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
What time the baby’s going to wake up and need a feed. I often find myself waking up even though baby’s sleeping soundly, expecting that she’ll need a feed. [Crying face]
My favourite moment of the day is…
When I have a good (strong) cup of coffee!
Thank you, Rachel! And thank you to the amazing Gunilla of Sugarlight Photography for the beautiful (and adorable) photos!